Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Ubud, the arts and cultural center of Bali, is quite different than the coast. Here, I am bombarded by the plethora of colors, in the art, shop windows, clothes, buildings and artifacts. Magical stick puppets, ferocious masks and amazing animal and insect headed kites are for sale everywhere. The greenery also dazzles me. During the rainy season, plants seem to sprout everywhere uninvited. Yet I believe there must be a dizzying amount of variegated greens year around. This is more like the Bali I expected.
The vibrant art scene includes paintings, sculptures, jewelry, handicrafts, and clothes. There are three main art museums, The Neka and Amra Museums; each one gives the art lover a history and understanding of real Balinese art, and an appreciation of the evolution and the influences that caused the changes over the years. There is also the Blanco (Renaissance) Museum, which has nothing to do with the renaissance, but is rather a profit mill and ego trip for ‘Don’Antonio Blanco (d.1999) and family, which is full of a bunch of paintings of nudes. I for one enjoy seeing the well-executed portrait of a nude just like the next guy or girl, but a whole room full: overkill – boring. Although, in the downstairs, there is a gallery full paintings by his son, Mario Blanco, also a talented artist, who has some excellent works for sale of many different subjects.
Both in Ubud and around the surrounding areas, there are big art emporiums filled with unsigned paintings, tread-milled out for the tourist trade. Many of the same paintings can be seen throughout Ubud. Sucker art, I call it. But there are legitimate galleries, and I found two really nice works, both of which, I decided to buy. My favorite was by Pande Ketut Taman, a well know Indonesian artist, which the Komaneka Gallery had for sale for $7500. As almost every shop and emporium gives deep discounts from their original asking prices, I thought there must be a great deal of space between the gallery’s asking price and what they were willing to take. How wrong I was. They discounted the painting to $7125 (5%). I took a photo of it and left with my tale between my legs. The other painting was by Arie Smits, in the Neka Gallery, which had just been hung and was as yet unpriced. However considering the prices of Smits other paintings, I was told it would probably sell in the Ballpark of $23,000 or more. Later I learned that the Neka Museum had a whole room designated to Smit’s paintings. Too bad my taste and budget didn’t coincide. At least I did find two reputable galleries, and I also found that a quality, smaller signed painting can be bought for as low as $150, as a lovely remembrance of Bali.
There are many expats in Ubud, artists, clothing designers, and creators of intriguing household items, colorful cushions and interesting furniture; people who simply have had a love affair with the area, and hangers on.
During my visit to this charming little community, I met two semi local women (each of whom have spent several months a year in Bali for the last eight or ten years), told me that ‘the expatiate community is a group of cliquish snobs.’ But how would I know? I never met any. Whereas these two women, both of whom I spent an enjoyable evening having dinner, and went through the process of exchanging email addresses, never responded to the emails I sent them. Who knows maybe it’s an Ubud disease like Cohoes Island Syndrone in upstate New York.
I read in a Jakarta newspaper, that the Indonesian Ministry of Tourist recently reported that the book, Eat, Prey, Love, had improved tourism by creating an influx of female travelers. Female readers, who loved the book, are flocking to Bali in droves. Again, during dinner each of the two semi-local women I told me the same story, that women even come with the book tucked under their arm. They follow the path of the author, visiting the healer referred to in the book, who now charges 550,000 rupees (about $180) for a consultation and tells all those women the same fortune. If this is so, it is just another example of fame and money continuing to be as corrupting as ever. I was also told, that the lady, who the author helped to build a house, is supposedly being rude to all comers. This is unbelievable to me, as the Balinese are such lovely people. I guess there are just too many lonely women in the world.
On my last morning in Ubud, while walking past the Monkey Forest carrying a black plastic bag, four monkeys were playing in the parking lot outside the forest. As I passed, one monkey jumped at my bag. I panicked and shouted ‘Help, Please!’ A local lady on a motorbike laughed. The monkey’s thought was probably that I had a bag of bananas, and of course I was in no danger but… Ubud is the home of the Monkey Forest, which is located in a lovely jungle-like setting on a road that connects the two main streets of Ubud; unfortunately it is full of monkeys, which I can’t abide. No matter that they are my distant relatives. I will admit to their and my ancestry but don’t care to associate with them under any terms. But to see the Forest, one has to share some land space with these primates and I did this with caution. The forest is delightful and the monkeys around me were mostly well behaved. But you can be assured, that I did not feed those little Buggers a morsel.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Bali For Real
The Tacky Coast
‘Bali Hi’ did call me, but unfortunately at first, it wasn’t quite the dream I expected.
One certainly doesn’t go to Bali for the beaches. These grayish black sands are a mass Aussie tourist destination, particularly for visitors from Perth, where in December and January the temperatures in Perth and it’s surrounding areas tend to be 40 degrees C and above. Their main destination, Kuta, reminisce of a tacky Jersey Shore or Camp Beverly Hills East, is a tourist ghetto with cheap hotels/B&Bs, cheap shopping, cheap day spas, and a party, party, party atmosphere. The party vive continues up the beach all along the coast from Kuta through Legian, to the much quieter and more tasteful Semiyak. All the way, there are bars, restaurants and hotels that parallel the beach road and the beach.
During the winter rainy season, the beaches and coastal waters are infested with trash and refuse that had previously gone out to sea. The trash floats in from local areas as well from Indonesia’s more northern cities. It is brought south by the currents only to return to the land on the rain soaked in-coming tides. Locals when finished eating don’t help the situation, as they leave their trash right where they sat on the beach, then wondering off to other interests. Troops of early morning trash cleaners clean up the refuse daily, only to have more return by evenings end.
Wave-wise, the whole coast is a surfer’s dream, and surfing schools dot the coastline all the way to Changgu, a small, quiet undeveloped hamlet much to the north. Nat, a young surfer from North Carolina, USA, told me that after surfing, he had to immediately wash his board in fresh water and take a shower to remove the slime and grime that coated his board and body from the trash infested water. Yet I have been told, that during the dry season, May through September, the trash problem does not exist, the beaches are clean, sand much lighter in color, and the Bali paradise returns.
In the daytime, hotels that line the road across from the beaches cover the dark alluvial sand with beach chairs and umbrellas for their guests. Every late afternoon the beach parfenaila is removed and scores of young local boys take over the beaches to play lively games of football (soccer) in the sand. Most hotels have at least one or two pools where many guests just hang around all day, only leaving for one or more of the cheap spa treatments available at their or a neighboring hotel. The warm, humid weather perpetuates this languid behavior. Guests only rouse themselves in the late afternoon, around four PM to prepare for an evening of drinks, dinner, and if so inclined partying until the early morning hours. When the cycle begins again.
The only deviation from this pattern is if one is registered in a surfing school or decides it’s a great day for shopping, and goes to the Kuta mall. Unlike the enclosed malls I am used to, Kuta’s is a series of streets with shops selling local as well as international brands.
There are a massive number of Polo and Ralph Lauren Polo shops and a massive number of dogs throughout the island. A taxi driver informed me that 70 to 80 percent of the Polo shops were fake, and the government informs island guests that the same percentage of dogs have rabies. In 2010, 76 people died over a two-year period from rabies, and 34000 were bitten in the first seven months. The Animal Husbandry Agency has two hundred teams going to 700 villages vaccinating dogs. Since 2008, three hundred thousand dogs have been vaccinated and tens of thousands stray dogs culled. The government is obviously making an enormous effort to get dogs vaccinated and also neutered. As for the phony Polo and Ralph Lauren Shops, they just continue to open through out the island.
Beach shack bars line the beaches, mainly in the Legian and Semiyak areas. Both food and drink are served from noon to well into the night, and nightclubs throb until all hours along the beach road.
My Guest house, in Semiyak, the Raja Gardens, with just nine rooms and a large inviting pool situated in lush gardens, is almost an anachronism, among the larger hotels and pools of the area. Semiyak is the trendiest of the three main communities couched together along the beach. It has lots of snazzy little boutiques and great restaurants with everything from Moroccan to Swiss food. If you’re into the party scene, cheap spas, shopping, and learning to surf, this coast is your cup of tea. As for me I was looking for more.

Monday, February 14, 2011


You’re Going for How Long?

     Gee wizard!  I am an able bodied person in suburbia.  The world is out there.  My psychic is saying see it.  Why just dream?  There!  I hope I have inspired at least one dreamer.
      I am often ask the inevitable wardrobe question, ‘What do you take for a year?’
    ‘Not much.’  I reply.  In Europe, I wash out my personal items and some shirts in my room.  I take dark clothing, my old navy sweatshirt.  The Mediterranean climate, allows me to wear my pants/jeans until they stand alone in the corner. Whereas in hot sultry Asian countries, I have to change my clothes more often, but laundry prices in Asia are so low, it doesn’t matter.

Also, never forget the golden rule of travel and clothes: There are clothes for sale in every country in the world!
My Clothes list below covers travel in more then one climate zone. 
  1. Two or three pairs of long pants.
            One of which is of fast drying material that also rolls up into a pedal pusher     length.
  1. One pair of Bermuda shorts (These cannot be used, particularly by women, in many Asian countries where modesty prevails).
  2.  Three light weight natural cotton blouses
  3. One very light weight cotton short sleeve shirt (new from Landsend) great for layering
  4. 2 long sleeve shirts (I use one as a night shirt if I am in a coed Hostel room –
I have a pair of long stripped pajama bottoms, which can also be substituted for long pants for wearing on the street).   I like convertible clothes.
  1. One set of silk long underwear
  2. One cotton nightgown
  3. One light weight travel sweater
  4. One sweatshirt
  5. One fleece
  6. One wrinkle free dress
  7. Four sets of undies
  8. Bathing suit
  9. One pair of flip-flops (to use in showers for sanitation if needed, slippery floors, etc.)
  10. One pair of walking shoes – I prefer no shoe strings and comfortable support
  11. One pair of sandals (convertible for dressy evenings)
  12. Water proof hiking boots and proper socks
  13. Fold up rain pouch
  14. One fleece jacket or pullover
My list: Necessary items
1. Drain cover for hand washing laundry in B&B washbasins 
2. Self-hanging clothesline for drying clothes over night in the bath/shower
3. One quick dry towel
4. Toiletries
  1. Medications
6. Camera (extra battery)
  1. Light weight computer (I use a Mac Air)
  2. Novel and Tour guide (if traveling in more than one country, these can usually be sold for half price to a used bookstores along the way.  Then buying a new/used guide for your next port of call is a thrifty move and lightens my load).
  3. Money belt (in the US, I like Triple A’s).
  4. Luggage locks for use in hotels and on transport other than Airplanes
  5. Sunglasses
  6. Sunscreen
  7. Skin So Soft lotion from Avon with Deet to ward off mosquitoes
  8. International electrical plugs
  9. My pants belt loop belt is also a money belt in which I carry crisp new US dollars, which are often necessary for the purchase of visas at many country’s borders.

       There are almost as many necessary extraneous items as clothing. Some travelers I know take more clothes than they need, packing some of their oldest, and divesting themselves of these as they travel, buying new when necessary.  This helps clean out their closets, gives a lot more variety to their wardrobe, and for shoppers, a chance to do what they enjoy most. 
Other choices in travel clothes are the new lightweight materials found at, and other specialty travel stores on the web. The last are the new linens, which are more wrinkle-free, easy to maintain and have a smart look of sophistication.  Although I continue to prefer cottons particularly in warm climates, and in colder climes, at least one pair of lightweight cords and the LLBean mixed material oxford cloth shirts, which are instant dryers overnight and always look freshly ironed (not).
Regarding luggage:  Not having the upper body strength to use a large back pack, I use a 23 inch suitcase (I like Eagle Creek), just one inch longer than most carry-on suitcases, a small good quality backpack (The North Face/Jan sport), and a shoulder purse in which I carry my computer, camera, and any other personal items I like to keep on my person.
If like me, you are not a backpacker and can get all your gear into a twenty-one inch carry-on, you’re the bomb.  In one climate zone it works for me.

Some Notes
Note: is a great packing guide website.

Note: When my travel includes trains in India, rather than carry it, upon arrival, I buy a lock and chain, to chain my suitcase to the medal loop designed just for that purpose located under my train seat.   

Note: Find the nearest travel/adventure store to you, particularly for good fitting waterproof hiking boots (I shop at Travel Country in Orlando, Florida). Any products sold by LL Bean or REI will stand up to the rigors of long-term travel as well

Note: Take patience, common sense, and a good sense of humor as all three are needed for long-term travel.   I for one, never grew up, I just got an old face.  With the enthusiasm of youth and the wisdom of age, I’m good to go. But then so are you. .  Take deep breath, and board that plane.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Why I Bother
         Out the train window in the early morning fog a light dusting of frost, evocative of mint glace, covered the green landscape. It was the end of another rewarding European summer, and I was riding the RER train from St. Michel-Norte Dame station to Charles De Gaulle airport, homeward bound.   As I rode, I mused over a story I had just heard, about ‘an eighty-year old woman who had recently died in her sleep at an International Youth Hostel in Norway.  Her passport was filled with visa stamps showing constant travel for the last ten years, not just around Europe, but also to exotic ports, Myanmar, Rarotonga, Eritrea, and Reunion Island. Her battered backpack, worn clothes (a couple of pairs of long pants, hiking shorts, a few shirts, a sweater), warm jacket, rain gear and hiking boots seemed secondary to the volume of journals, post cards and address books that filled her pack.  Other than her country of origin listed in her passport, the hostel manager could find no permanent address listed, nor next of kin.  ‘Leave it to the embassy,’ that was his solution I was told.’ Over the years, I have learned travel can be addictive and like any other opiate, it reels you in when you least expect it.  Obviously for this octogenarian woman her original week or month of wandering off the grid had turned into a way of life.
    My morning musings also bought to mind another unusual travel story told to me many years ago.  ‘A stately old Englishman of some means, the father-in-law of one of my oldest friend’s, had listed on his passport, occupation: Gentleman.’  How descriptively quaint.  It was then I decided, that at the next re-issuance of my own passport, the new one would read occupation: Traveler.  Much like the 80 year old mystery woman, I decided then and there, what I intended to do with my waning days. After a lifetime of working and parenting, I decided it was time.  After all, I was getting a little long in the tooth. The travel seed had been firmly planted in me many years ago, and it was time to fess up.
     Gazing out that train window at the bucolic scene, I recalled the wonderful time during my fourth year, when my grandfather David Eck, an immigrant from Sweden lived in our household.  His story was not much different from the multitude of immigrants processed through Ellis Island in the late nineteenth century. 
       He originally arrived in America in 1874, at age ten; the minimum age to enter the US at the time was twelve.  Rather than send him back, the Ellis Island personal changed his papers to read the requisite age.  The spelling of his name, Ek – meaning oak in Swedish - was considered too short so it was also changed, from Ek to Eck.  After finishing a tool and dye apprenticeship in Boston, his sense of wanderlust led him to embark on a trip across North America, jumping trains, lumberjacking and taking odd jobs to make his way through his newly adopted land. Here was a brilliant, self-educated man, whose main goal in life was to see the world, until he became smitten with my grandmother, which tethered him with the responsibility of supporting her and their six children.
     All his life when the sun when down, this tall, angular, rather regal looking, gentleman with a shock of silver hair and gentle grey eyes, developed a bacchanalian bent, which that year became the bane of my mother’s life.  Her sense of propriety was so offended with the constant disruption of both her and my father’s sleep by the midnight calls to fetch him because of his carousing ways, she finally had him banished; sent off to my aunt’s who lived on a country lake far enough from the nearest town to keep him out of my mother’s hair and harms way.  It wasn’t that my mother didn’t know what she was getting into.  Rather, I believe, though I know she loved him deeply, she had hoped old age had tempered his thirst, but obviously it didn’t.
      Yet for me, it was a momentous year.  Grandpa Eck was my first travel guru, and we sprawled out together on the living room carpet, spreading out each new monthly National Geographic map and the companion monthly magazine.  It was my dear Grandpa Eck, who first told me about Ladakh, a mysterious land of tantric Buddhist monasteries and a strange mountainous moon-like landscape.  After he left, I continued our monthly geographical searches for obscure unique world venues. By age seven, I had decided that the ‘soul of the world’ must be in Ladakh.  I also decided I would go there before I died. Just to make sure, of course.
     Although there were many other fantastic places worldwide I had not seen, I never forgot my childhood memories of Ladakh. Upon returning home from my latest European trip, in September of 2006, at age 66, I walked into my workplace and said, “I am leaving in June.” There, it was done. 
       I spend most of the winter, deciding what to take, buying luggage and trekking shoes, and deciding on a basic itinerary.  Because I believe fervently that flying anywhere for less then a few weeks is thriftless, I planned a sojourn of much more than just Ladakh. Other than a summer in China and Tibet in 2002, I would be in Asia for the first time in my life, and I was going to make the most of it. 
My Gosh!   What am I going to wear?
Two Notes
  Note:  Recently, a rather intellectual sort read Why I Bother. “Is this fiction?” He asked.  “How could an elderly man in the 1940s have so much information about the world without our modern technology.” 
It gave me pause.  ‘Was this a four year’s old personal fantasy about the facts, of how it really happened?   Who know?  But that is how I remember the events of that wonderful year , so I’m sticking to them.

Note:  Since traveling to Ladakh, I have learned that Mt Kailask in western Tibet is really considered the ‘soul of the world’ by many eastern religions, (Jains, Hindus, Buddhists and Bons) and body willing, I will go there and decide upon its mystical powers for myself.